Change management assessments are commonly touted by consultants as a key step in the change management process. Are they necessary? What is the value of these assessments and when should they be used?

When managing change, two critical assessments are needed at the onset of the change:

Assessment of the Change

The first assessment is of the change itself. This assessment examines the scope, depth and overall size of the change. This assessment should address the following:

  • Scope of the change (workgroup, department, division, enterprise)
  • Number of employees impacted
  • Type of change (process, technology, organization, job roles, merger, strategy)
  • Amount of change from where we are today

This assessment of the change and a thoughtful review of the nature of the change are essential to plan your change strategy.

ASSESSMENT OF THE Organization

The second evaluation is an assessment of the organization. Each organization has unique characteristics that make change management either easy or challenging. These organizational attributes are important to understand so that you can educate your team and sponsors about potential obstacles. This assessment would cover areas such as:

  • Culture and value system
  • Capacity for change (and how much change is already taking place)
  • Leadership styles and power distribution
  • Residual effects of past changes
  • Middle management's predisposition toward the change
  • Employee readiness for change

Culture and value system

The culture and value system play a major role in how an organization reacts to change. By considering this factor, you can predict certain reactions in the group and plan accordingly to deal with those reactions.

Capacity for change

Organizations have a limited capacity for change. If your organization is already experiencing a large degree of change, then implementing yet another change can be more difficult.

Leadership style

Leadership styles play an important role in change management planning. Because sponsorship and management support is a key success factor for change management, it is important that you take time to assess the leadership styles and power distribution in the organization.

Past changes

Past changes may have left a residual effect that could work in your favor, or make change management more challenging. Your organization's history is part of your starting point when managing change.

Predisposition of middle managers

In many organizations, there are middle managers who have a high degree of control over their peers and employees. They are either strong leaders or feared by others. These middle managers will play a significant role in the change process.

Employee readiness

Employee readiness for change is a gauge of how prepared and able employees are for change, and whether you can expect high or low employee resistance, and why.

How is the data collected for readiness assessments

How the assessments are completed depends on the make-up of your project team and the role that outside experts play in the process. If outside consultants are used for change management, then they have little choice but to use standard data collection methods for completing these assessments. These methods include employee and manager interviews and surveys. When collecting data from a large number of employees, focus groups can also be used in place of one-on-one interviews.

If change management is led by managers internal to the organization, and the project team is representative of the groups impacted by the change, then the need for data gathering is reduced. In many cases these managers will have the needed insights into the characteristics of the change and attributes of the organization. It may be necessary to collect only a sub-set of data from employees to augment the existing knowledge of the team.

What is the readiness assessment data used for?

The readiness assessment data is used as part of the change management planning. Specifically, the information is used to prepare a change management strategy that fits both the change and the unique attributes of your organization. This includes:

  1. Selecting a change management team model and team size
  2. Selecting a sponsorship model and support system
  3. Assessing the risks and identifying potential obstacles
  4. Determining if any special tactics are necessary to support this change
  5. Customizing communication plans, training plans, coaching plans and sponsorship activities

What specific data should be collected from employees?

Employee data-gathering should be done carefully and in context with a good change management framework. In many cases, simply asking these questions to employees can create fear and uncertainty, especially if the project team and senior leadership are not ready to answer the many questions that naturally arise when employees know that change is on the horizon. When gathering data from employees, three areas of data collection are important:

  • The employee's perception of the organization's readiness for change
  • The employee's personal readiness for change in general
  • The employees' assessment of the change itself and how they perceive the personal impact of that change

The last area must be timed carefully with the overall change management communications plan and readiness of the project team with details about the change. They will have to be able to answer the question from employees: "WIIFM?" (what's in it for me?). Employees will first assess change from the perspective of this personal impact before relating to the broader effects on the organization.

Examples of statements that can be used to rate how employees perceive the change and its impact on them personally include:

  • The change supports my professional career plans and goals.
  • The change will improve my financial position.
  • I will not have to relocate to support this change.
  • I do not view my job at risk with this change.
  • This change would ultimately benefit my family.
  • I am confident that I can learn the new skills and behaviors to perform my new job.
  • The change will not adversely affect my health.
  • The change will result in a more enjoyable work environment.

Note that these assessment areas are related to family, health, career and finances. Statements like these can be used in an assessment tool that asks the employee to rate the degree to which they agree with or disagree with the statement (for example, "On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating strong disagreement and 5 indicating strong agreement, evaluate each of the following statements"). The resulting scores can then be tabulated by group, department and division to create a profile for each area.

Example statements that can be used to assess employees' perception of the organization include:

  • Most changes in my organization in the past have been implemented successfully.
  • The organization rewards and celebrates successful change.
  • The organization takes care of employees that are adversely impacted by change.
  • Middle managers have been advocates for change in the past.
  • Executives in this organization are visible and active change leaders and sponsors.
  • The organization encourages and rewards employees that promote change and introduce new ideas.
  • I view my peers and work colleagues as willing and able to embrace change.
  • My management team is receptive to feedback and alternative ideas, and encourages open communication.

In this second list of examples, the statements relate to how the employee perceives key attributes of the organization, including the culture and leadership style.

Pulling it all together

When conducted with the right change management framework, these assessments (the change assessment, the organizational attributes assessment, and data from employees) can be useful to plan your change management strategy and can help the project team make informed decisions about their approach to managing change. A note of caution: the assessment process should only be viewed as a planning aid and not as the bulk of the change management effort. These are simply tools to help the team prepare for change, and the time devoted to assessments should be minimal; just enough to inform good planning decisions.

Checklist for Your Change Management Approach

Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.